Are Immigrants of Color Being Targeted for Deportation?

An excerpt of ColorLines magazine’s special report on how the clampdown on immigration is tearing families apart.

Getty Images

One early morning five years ago, Calvin James walked outside the Jersey City apartment, where his girlfriend and 6-year-old son slept, to put the trash on the street for pickup.

As soon as James, then 45, walked outside, he was greeted by four people jumping out of a black SUV. Dressed in uniforms with “ICE” printed on the back, they rushed him and demanded he confirm his name, then handcuffed and pulled James into the back of the SUV.

James spent four months in immigration detention, first in New Jersey and then in Louisiana for an old conviction for selling pot. Then, he was put on a plane and deported to Jamaica, where he had not been since he was 12 years old.

ColorLines magazine went on the road tracing James’ journey from New York to Jamaica to investigate the collateral effects of deportation on immigrant communities. Harsh immigration policy, compounded by systemic racial inequities built into the criminal justice system, are not thwarting terrorists or making our country a whole lot safer. But the laws are doing a great job of breaking up another entity: families of color.

Immigrants face de facto double jeopardy. Indeed, double punishment is now all but guaranteed in the legal landscape for non-citizens. When the Illegal Immigration Reform and Individual Responsibility Act was passed in 1996, it changed immigration policy so that non-citizens—even legal residents—who were caught in the criminal justice system for the most minor crimes became vulnerable to deportation.